Toronto’s Poop-Themed Restaurant Defies Human Psychology

By

There are plenty of things in this world that I think are cute, but that doesn’t mean I want to eat them. Kittens — snuggly, sure. Tasty? I really don’t want to find out. Ditto for baby elephants. And, for that matter, baby humans. I even think that big-eyed poop emoji is kind of adorable, in a weird way; I also do not feel, nor have I ever felt, the urge to go make myself a crap sandwich.

And yet. There is a woman in Toronto who is hoping to change that, sort of. Her name is Lien Nguyen, and she she recently told the Toronto Star that she’s “trying to make poop cute,” and she plans to do that by opening a restaurant called the Poop Café Dessert Bar — where, the Star reported, “all of the poo-ticular items available at the café will be brown, formed like a stool and served in toilet-shaped dishes.”

While on a trip to Taiwan a few years ago, “we checked out a toilet-themed restaurant and I just loved it. It’s funny to put food and poop together; it’s a great comparison,” Nguyen told the paper. “As soon as I finished school, I said, ‘OK, I’m going to bring the restaurant to Toronto.’”

There are many reasons why the whole concept feels like a terrible idea, and one of them is this: When it comes to disgust, humans are not rational beings. In a 1986 study that seems tailor-made for this very situation, psychologist Paul Rozin offered volunteers a piece of chocolate fudge that had been molded to look like a piece of dog poop. Overwhelmingly, they passed, choosing instead to eat a piece that, as one Guardian column has described it, “less closely resembled what all food eventually becomes.”

To reiterate: They knew it was fudge. In fact, they’d all eaten regular fudge earlier in the experiment. And yet just the appearance was enough to turn them off — illustrating, Rozin argued, a concept called the “law of similarity,” which “holds that things that resemble one another share fundamental properties.” (It’s a form of magical contagion, the irrational beliefs that shape how we feel about lucky charms and jinxed objects — a diamond ring from a failed marriage is still just a ring, for example, but it’s a much harder sell.)

Then again, Nguyen has company. (Compoony? No? Sorry.) As the Star reported, similar establishments already exist in the Philippines, Korea, and Indonesia, in addition to Modern Toilet, Nguyen’s original Taiwanese inspiration. Maybe some things can’t be explained. Maybe these places are secretly spiking the pudding. Maybe it’s a cultural thing: “It’s seen as a normal café,” one diner told Mashable about the Korean spot last year, adding, “I would say the ‘cute poop’ theme is very popular.” Either way, it seems the Poop Café is joining something of a — ahem — movement; time will tell if it’s something Canadians can digest.